S&H Opera Review

Donizetti L'Elisir d'Amore San Francisco Opera, 21 October 2000 (HE)

Donizetti put L'Elisir d'Amore together in two weeks in 1832, using readily available material. The story -- boy and girl get together in spite of things, through luck, a bit of effort and a certain amount of wine -- is the basic one of romance in its comic form. The play between contrasting types of cleverness and stupidity, is carried out in music that follows the individuals’ thoughts and emotions but fits into a grand scheme of things so that the audience always knows what is going on. Adina reads Tristan -- a classic tale of great love, but not yet quite overloaded with its Wagnerian associations -- with self-mocking grandeur and extols her own elixir, her beauty, with musical confidence; Dulcamara’s salesmanship is familiar buffo bluster, but full of brio; Belcore's military posturing is suitably thuggish. And Nemorino is dimly amiable and sincere, unaware of the effect of his straightforward expressions of misery and dawning joy. There is also general collective jollity for the chorus.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco Opera‘s production has also been thrown together from mainly existing materials, with much less success. The sets are reworked from a design from the 1960s, and present a cute and inoffensive Italian town where buildings move about at random. There is an unconvincing, but unfunny, puppet horse, and Dulcamara’s wagon pops open to reveal nothing very interesting. The costumes are similarly generic, in pleasant, warm colours. The stage director Sarah Bernhard gave the singers business that was sometimes harmless, sometimes distracting and never funny. Nemorino eavesdrops on Adina’s reading by pushing a haystack around, Belcore does an ankle swivelling goose step while someone else is singing, and Nemorino has his inside leg measured while singing. It was all painfully close to amateur Gilbert and Sullivan done on very expensive sets.

The singers on the whole didn‘t rise above the production, seeming to churn out the music in the confidence that the audience knew the tunes already. Rebecca Evans as Adina clunked along, while Tito Beltrán as Nemorino and Rodney Gilfrey as Belcore both sounded granular when they weren’t wooden. John Del Carlo as Dulcamara seemed to be sleepwalking. Donita Volkwijn as the chorus soloist Giannetta sang gloriously, perhaps because her entirely predictable gestures didn‘t overlap with her singing so much. Patrick Summers and the orchestra did rather better, making the throwaway gestures of the music sound intoxicating even when the singers merely sounded drunk or bored.

H.E. Elsom

Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger Len@musicweb-international.com

Return to: Seen&Heard Index  

Return to: Music on the Web